A trip to the El Bulli exhibition at Somerset House saw us stopping for lunch in Covent Garden at the Opera Tavern, a Spanish restaurant in the Salt Yard Group. Opera Tavern differs from the other restaurants in the group, Dehesa and Salt Yard, in having a charcoal grill and specialising in Ibérico pork dishes as well as tapas.
We started with 2 glasses of a pleasant Manzanilla Pasada, as my sum experience of sherry to date has been a sip of my nana's Bristol Cream and I wanted to try something proper as it was all the rage a while back.
The first plate, some butternut squash and sage croquettes with a quince alioli was a perfect start to a meal, smoky, buttery and sweet, topped off with a great alioli and utterly delicious. Following this a hunk of roasted salt cod on a base of compressed and crispy black rice, with a tomato sauce and basil sauce around it. This was a lovely piece of fish, and the rice beneath gorgeous, crisp, sticky and unctuous perfectly matched with the tomato and basil. My wife's plate of courgette flowers stuffed with goats cheese was fabulous, the courgette flowers in a tempura batter and generously covered in honey, top class stuff. I tried the mini Ibérico burger with foie gras, done on the charcoal, feted as one of the better burgers in London, and well, wow, a triumph of a burger and well worth at the top of any list. The burger was gorgeous, smoky and so juicy I left a pool on the plate as I bit into it, with fantastic onion rings and jam and brioche bun.
The last dishes to appear were a plate of roasted cauliflower with cumin, pickled romanescu, raisins and pinenuts for my wife, a pleasant combination, with a nice mix of spice and sweet. I had a plate of Ibérico presa, cooked medium rare on the grill, smoky and rich in flavour, and with a drop dead gorgeous sauce of shallots, capers and lemon, thick, sticky, sweet and tart. I have to say this was one of the best meat dishes I have ever had, astonishingly good, not just for the presa as the sauce was amazing.
We then tried a plate of 3 Manchegos, with some melba toast and quince and walnut jam. I'm a big fan of Manchego and really enjoyed the one with rosemary. Pudding saw us indulge in a few puddings, the cold chocolate fondant with salt caramel, espresso ice cream and coffee crumb and a parfait of Turron, a Spanish nougat, with yoghurt ice cream and apricot sorbet. The chocolate dessert was lovely, rich and filled with an excellent salt and PX caramel, but the Turron parfait was the better of the two, a gorgeous combination with the sweet parfait, tart sorbet and an almost cheesy yoghurt accompanied by a crunchy bed of praline.
The meal served as a reminder that I focus too much on certain types of restaurants, with the majority of my write ups being longer tasting menus and more formal dining, and that I need to spend some time trying some tapas and less formal places. The two Ibérico pork dishes, the burger and presa, were as good as anything I've had before, stand out dishes that will see me return next time we're in the West End for certain. The bill came to £117 and included 2 sherries, 2 peach bellini's.
Butternut squash and sage croquettes.
Roasted salt cod.
Courgette flowers stuffed with goats cheese.
Mini Ibérico pork and foie gras burger.
Grilled Ibérico presa.
Cold chocolate fondant.